New York governor declares disaster emergency over polio

Governor’s order allows more medical workers to administer polio vaccines after virus found in wastewater samples in another New York county.

The governor of the US state of New York has declared a so-called “disaster emergency” after the polio virus was discovered in wastewater samples in another county in the New York City area.

New York health authorities began checking for signs of the virus in sewage water after the United States reported its first confirmed case of polio in nearly a decade in July in Rockland County, about 48km (30 miles) north of Manhattan.

The latest detection was found in a sample from Nassau County in Long Island, the state Department of Health said on Friday. The virus has also been detected in samples taken every month since April in Orange, Rockland and Sullivan counties, as well as around New York City.

“A disaster has occurred in New York State, for which the affected local governments are unable to respond adequately,” Governor Kathy Hochul said in Friday’s disaster declaration.

The order allows EMS workers, midwives and pharmacists to administer polio vaccines and gives doctors the power to issue standing orders for the vaccine. Data on immunisations will be used to focus vaccination efforts where they are needed the most.

“On polio, we simply cannot roll the dice,” state Health Commissioner Dr Mary T Bassett said in a statement. “If you or your child are unvaccinated or not up to date with vaccinations, the risk of paralytic disease is real. I urge New Yorkers to not accept any risk at all.”

New York officials said in July that the case of polio was confirmed in a young unvaccinated man in Rockland Country.

“The sample collected in August from Nassau County has been genetically linked” to that confirmed case, the Health Department said on Friday, which amounts to “further evidence of expanding community spread”.

Polio was once one of the country’s most feared diseases, with annual outbreaks causing thousands of cases of paralysis.

The virus, which is spread between people and is highly contagious, mainly affects children below age five, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Its symptoms include sore throat, fever, tiredness and nausea, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says on its website. Most people infected with polio have no symptoms, but they can still transmit the virus for days and even weeks.

In New York, the statewide polio vaccination rate is 79 percent, but Rockland, Orange and Sullivan counties had lower rates. Officials have said it is possible that hundreds of people in the state have gotten polio and do not know it.

The governor’s disaster emergency declaration will remain in effect until October 9.

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